Learning from Regret: A Guide to Productive Reflection

Robert Leahy, the Father of CBT Therapy, Shares Strategies for Dealing with Regret

Podcast How to Handle Regrets and Mistakes Without Losing Your Mind

🌟 Introduction 🌟

We’ve all had those moments, those memories that sneak up on us out of nowhere and flood our minds with regret. Maybe it’s a cringe-worthy moment from our past or a decision we wish we could take back. But how should we handle these moments of regret? Should we dwell on them, letting them consume us? Or should we ignore them and pretend they never happened? Today, we’ll dive into the world of regret with Robert Leahy, a renowned expert in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), who will guide us on the path towards productive reflection.


Inside Mental Health Podcast Guest and Host Bio

Before we begin, let’s learn a little bit about our guest for today. Dr. Robert L. Leahy is the Director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City and a Clinical Professor of Psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Leahy has dedicated his career to the study and practice of cognitive therapy and has authored numerous books on mental health. You can find more about him at CognitiveTherapyNYC.com.

Now, let’s dive into the fascinating world of regret and learn how we can navigate it in a productive way.

Understanding Regret: The Psychology Behind it

Many of us experience a wide range of regrets, from small everyday mistakes to major life choices. But why do we feel regret in the first place? Dr. Leahy explains that the ability to regret past decisions or anticipate regretful outcomes is actually a natural and beneficial part of being human. Our capacity for regret is linked to our cognitive abilities, enabling us to think about what could have been and what might be. But it’s important to differentiate between productive and unproductive regret.

🔍 Productive Regret: Learn and Grow 🔍

Productive regret is when we use our regrets as an opportunity for growth and learning. For example, if we anticipate regret from eating spicy food late at night due to the subsequent sleep disturbances, we may choose to avoid it altogether. This anticipation of regret helps us make better decisions and take actions that align with our values and well-being.

In fact, research has shown that anticipating regret can significantly increase compliance with important behaviors, such as taking medication for chronic conditions like hypertension. By helping individuals visualize the potential negative consequences of not taking their medication, they are more likely to adhere to their treatment plan and reduce their risk of complications.

🔥 Unproductive Regret: Letting Go and Moving On 🔥

On the flip side, unproductive regret involves ruminating on past mistakes or missed opportunities, without any potential for growth or positive change. Dr. Leahy emphasizes that dwelling on regrets from decades ago or continually replaying failed relationships in our minds is neither productive nor beneficial. It’s like living in a nostalgic world that no longer exists. Instead, it hampers our ability to embrace the present and move forward.

The Power of Mindfulness and Living in the Present

While regret can be a powerful emotion, it’s essential to find a balance between reflection and dwelling. Dr. Leahy highlights the importance of mindfulness and living in the present moment. Cats, for example, are excellent teachers in this respect. They fully immerse themselves in the present, their four simple cognitions being: “This feels good,” “This doesn’t feel good,” “I want that,” and “What’s next?”

However, being fully present doesn’t mean ignoring the past or the future. It’s about recognizing that the ability to contemplate past decisions and future possibilities is one of the gifts of being human. By striking a balance between mindfulness and reflection, we can navigate regret in a healthier and more productive way.

Q&A: Addressing Additional Topics of Interest

Q: Is it normal to compare oneself to others and feel regrets based on that comparison?

A: Absolutely! It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others, especially in the age of social media. However, comparing ourselves to others can often lead to envy and regret. It’s crucial to remember that what we see on social media is often a curated highlight reel of others’ lives. Instead of comparing upwards and feeling a sense of loss, try to focus on gratitude for what you have. Research has shown that the regrets of individuals nearing the end of their lives are often about relationships and love, not wealth or fame.

Q: How can we overcome guilt and use it more productively?

A: Guilt is often seen as a negative emotion, but it serves an important purpose. It helps us recognize our mistakes and learn from them. Guilt becomes unproductive when it becomes a fixed state of mind rather than a catalyst for change. To use guilt more productively, it is essential to move beyond self-criticism and focus on making amends and becoming a better person. Apologizing, making restitution, and seeking forgiveness can help turn guilt into a positive force for personal growth and repairing relationships.


Regret is a complex emotion that can either hold us back or propel us forward. By practicing mindfulness, learning from our regrets, and focusing on productive reflection, we can harness the power of regret to grow and make positive changes in our lives. Remember, regret is not a sign of weakness or failure, but an opportunity for growth and self-improvement. Embrace the lessons and move forward with resilience.

Now it’s your turn! Share your experiences with regret and how you’ve used it to grow and learn. Join the conversation and let’s support each other on this journey of self-discovery.

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😺 Join the Discussion! 😺

Share your experiences and thoughts on regret and its impact on your life. Let’s learn from each other and find ways to embrace regret as a tool for personal growth. Don’t forget to hit the share button and spread the wisdom with your friends and family!

Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and coherence.

Podcast episode: Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast – Episode Title: “If Only…: Finding Freedom from Regret”